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Bernardino Michele Maria Drovetti (4 January 1776 - 1852) was an Italian diplomat, lawyer, explorer and antiquarian, appointed by Napoleon as French consul to Egypt at a time when the country and its antiquities were being opened rapidly to European knowledge and acquisition.
He was born in Barbania in the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia to Giorgio Francesco Drovetti and Anna Vacca Vittoria. His older brother Giuseppe was a lawyer and his younger brother Luigi was a priest. Nothing is known of his sister. He was schooled at the College delle Provincie
After graduating in Turin he joined the army in the (Hussars) which was incorporated into the French army. In the spring of 1801 Drovetti was War minister in Piedmont and Chief of Staff to the Piemontese Division in the French army. Later that same year he also became a judge in Turin.
In 1803 Napoleon sent Drovetti and Mathieu de Lesseps to Egypt as diplomatic 'Commissioners for Foreign Relations' to monitor the complex situation. He dealt with the Ali Pasha who acted as Viceroy for the Ottoman Turks. In 1815 he left the post of consul but remained in Egypt, traveling, excavating and dealing in antiquities. In 1821 he was reappointed as Consul General of France in Egypt. He retired from that post in 1829.
Drovetti both traded antiquities and assembled his own collection, competing with rivals collectors such as Giovanni Belzoni and the British consul Henry Salt, and leading to disputes such as that of the obelisk in Philae found at the temple of Abu Simbel.
Drovetti also traveled and dealt with collectors such as Jean-Jacques Rifaud, Frederic Cailliaud, Robert Richardson, Alessandro Ricci, Enegildo Frediani, Carlo Vidua, Edouard Montule, Franz Christian Gau, Linant de Belle Fund, Edme Jomard and Jean Dubois Ayme.
Rifaud and Cailliaud were his traveling companions in the early days, when they passed the second Cataract on the Nile and found the temple of Abu Simbel. Cailliaud was a French mineralogist, geologist and stone collector who Drovetti introduced to the Ali Pasha in order to gain a mandate to hunt for the emerald mines of Ptolemy.
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All of Drovetti's work was collected in the name of France, but he also sold antiquities to the highest bidder, and is reputed to have orchestrated exorbitantly high prices. His methods were deplorable. If twenty alabaster vases were found in a tomb, he would see to it that half were smashed to bring up their price. He would break off the pyramidion (top portion) off of an obelisk to make it easier to transport, etc. But statues of him were raised in his native Italy for services rendered in gathering together the magnificent works of Egyptian art and astonishingly beautiful papyri for Europe.
In 1824, King Charles Felix of Sardinia acquired much of the personal collection of Drovetti (5,268 pieces, including 100 statues, 170 papyri, stelae, mummies, and other items), these went to the University of Turin and formed the foundation for the Museo Egizio in Turin.
In popular culture
- Ronald T. Ridly, Napoleon's Proconsul In Egypt: The Life and Times of Bernardino Drovetti, Rubicon Press, 1998. ISBN 0-948695-59-5
- Egypt, BBC documentary, 2005
- Drovetti at Travelers in Egypt